Posts

Toddlers and Self-Control: A Survival Guide for Parents

Children don’t actually develop this kind of self-control until 3.5 to 4 years of age, and even then they still need a lot of help managing their emotions and impulses. You are the expert on your child. We have expertise in child development. We’re in this together. #ParentForward

Picking up the remote after you’ve told your child not to touch it five times in 10 minutes. Slapping a friend who took the last train off the table at child care—right after she agreed with you that ‘hands are not for hitting.’ Running directly into the ocean after you’ve clearly explained that he can’t go in the water without an adult. These are typical toddler moments that all come down to one thing: self-control, and the lack of it.

Why do young children have so little self-control? The part of the brain responsible for exerting control over the emotional, impulsive part of the brain is not well-developed in children under 3. This is why toddlers are much more likely to act on their desires, such as yanking a toy out of a friend’s hand, rather than saying to themselves, “I really want that toy, but it’s not right to grab, so I am going to go find myself another toy.”

In fact, Tuning In, ZERO TO THREE’s national Parent Survey, found that parents’ expectations of their toddlers often outpace what toddlers are actually able to do when it comes to self-control. When parents were asked at what age children have the ability to resist doing something that parents have forbidden:

  • 56 percent of parents said children could do this before age three (including 18 percent of parents who believed children possessed this ability by six months of age)
  • 44 percent of parents said children could do this at age three years or older

Children don’t actually develop this kind of self-control until 3.5 to 4 years of age, and even then they still need a lot of help managing their emotions and impulses.

It’s not surprising so many parents have an ‘expectation gap,’ especially with so many 2-year-olds who are so verbal and able to repeat many of the rules parents have laid out. It can be very confusing. But being able to repeat a rule or expectation is not the same as being able to follow it.

Life with your little one will be (hopefully) much less maddening when your expectations for her are in line with her abilities. It can be a relief to know that your child is acting his age; that he needs help to learn to manage his impulses, and that he is not “misbehaving,” or purposefully trying to drive you crazy, as much as it feels that way. Here are some ideas for nurturing self-control:

1. Recognize that it’s not easy being a toddler.

There are an awful lot of things toddlers need to do that they don’t want to do, like getting in the car seat, stopping play to take a nap when they are NOT tired, or sharing their treasures. Let your child know you understand: “You are really disappointed that we can’t go to the playground today.” “You are mad that I won’t let you have ice cream before dinner. I totally get that.” “You are so frustrated with that train—it is so hard to make it stay on the track.” Giving your child the words to describe his feelings is the first step toward helping him manage his emotions and develop self-control.

2. Play games that require impulse control.

Color one side of a paper plate red and the other green, and play some “stop and go” games. For example, when you are outside playing, your child runs toward you until you put up the red sign. Then she runs again when the sign is green. Play “freeze dance” with music. When the music is on, your child dances; when you stop it, she has to freeze. Read books about children who get angry or have tantrums, and talk about how to handle these big feelings. Use your child’s pretend play as an opportunity to teach self-control. When a stuffed animal gets really mad or does something it shouldn’t, problem-solve how ‘Mr. Bear’ might deal with the challenge he’s facing.

3. Make a plan for how to help your child cope with experiences that are especially hard for your child.

Some toddlers have a hard time with transitions, while others have a hard time at birthday parties or adjusting to large group experiences. Think about what situations tend to trigger challenging behavior from your child. Making small adjustments to family routines (like re-thinking taking your toddler to the toy store after a bad night’s sleep) can help to reduce challenging behaviors, with more ‘Yesses’ and fewer ‘Nos’.

4. Set appropriate limits with natural consequences.

Even though your child may not be able to follow a rule yet, it is still important to set expectations. The key is to take a teaching and guiding approach with clear and natural consequences. Stay calm and explain the rule (“No throwing toys. If you throw the truck, I will have to put it away for 5 minutes”). If your child tests the limit, which is to be expected, calmly implement the consequence. Through everyday interactions like these, children develop the brain connections they need to master the skill of self-control.

5. Take your own temperature.

As a parent, you have a lot of power. Your child is taking his cues from you when it comes to managing emotions. Learning to manage and make sense of your own feelings—and getting help when you need it (and we all do)—is the best way to help your child develop self-control. Responding thoughtfully, rather than reacting, is one important way that parents make the difference in how their young children are learning and growing

https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1603-toddlers-and-self-control-a-survival-guide-for-parents

Why Don’t Teachers Get Training On Mental Health Disorders?

To make it worse, most teachers are given very little training on how to detect mental health disorders in students. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five children has or will have a severe mental health disorder, so the lack of training is a huge disservice to teachers who are likely to encounter these issues in their students.

In an article published by The Atlantic, Jessica Lahey combines her personal experience dealing with mental health issues in the classroom with research on how teachers might be better prepared. She points out that often teachers aren’t even aware of mental health practices used by other staff in the building where they work. She writes:

As an increasing number of schools roll out evidence-based mental-health programs such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), teaching that promotes appropriate student behavior by proactively defining, teaching, and supporting positive student conduct, and Trauma-Sensitive Schools, programs aimed at reducing the effects of trauma on children’s emotional and academic well-being, educators need to be at least minimally conversant in the terminology, methods, and thinking behind these strategies. These programs provide strategies that can be highly effective, but only if the teachers tasked with implementing them are sufficiently trained in the basics of mental-health interventions and treatment.

Some teachers may feel this type of preparation is not their job, but it is easy to confuse the symptoms of a mental health disorder with run-of-the-mill misbehavior, and how a teacher handles those situations affects the learning of every child in the classroom. If the teacher’s job is to teach the whole child, mental well-being and support is part of the description.

https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/10/19/why-dont-teachers-get-training-on-mental-health-disorders/

Why It’s ‘Self-Reg,’ Not Self-Control, That Matters Most For Kids

“Self-regulation is about identifying the causes and reducing the intensity of impulses and, when necessary, having the energy to resist,” psychologist Stuart Shanker writes in his book, Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life.

LA Johnson/NPR

As parents, it can be natural enough to conclude that when our kids act up or act out — at home, at school, away at the beach or park on family summer vacation — we should tell them to calm down and be sure they follow through.

After all, isn’t it our job to teach our kids to learn some self-control?

But what about the kids who not only can’t calm down, they have no idea what it means to calm down? What about the kids who are continuously over-aroused, stressed to the point where their nervous systems need not words but step-by-step embodied guidance to even begin to calm?

In the just-published Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life, psychologist Stuart Shanker of York University and the MEHRIT Centre in Canada asks us — parents, teachers, coaches, anyone who mentors kids — to think not in terms of self-control but of self-regulation.

Shanker writes: “Self-control is about inhibiting impulses; self-regulation is about identifying the causes and reducing the intensity of impulses and, when necessary, having the energy to resist.”

Looking at five domains in a child’s life — biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and prosocial — and how they interact, we can begin, he says, to reframe our own perceptions of what’s going on with our kids, as a starting point to help them gain greater calm and attention, and also empathy for others.

Self-Reg
Self-Reg

How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life

by Stuart Shanker and Teresa Barker

Hardcover, 307 pages

The biggest lesson that I’ve taken from Self-Reg is that when a child insists that a teacher’s voice is harsh, or a restaurant or classroom is unbearably bright or loud, we need to recognize (even though we might not experience things that way at all) that the child is very probably not lying, exaggerating or trying to be oppositional. Instead, the child’s biological sensitivities may make her exquisitely reactive in a way that triggers a constant cycle of over-arousal-crash-over-arousal as she tries to cope. That’s where Self-Reg comes in, with strategies for regulating the out-of-whack nervous system.

And the worst thing we can do is to ask our kids to calm — or even go to sleep — by playing with computer or gaming devices. That sort of activity only feeds brain and body hyperactivity, and when the child eventually becomes depleted, he will crave even more arousal.

Stuart Shanker and I have collaborated on research and writing projects in anthropology and psychology. Last week, after I read Self-Reg, I asked him some questions via email:

I was very struck by your point that many young children today simply don’t know what the sensation of “calm” feels like. How did we get to this point, and what are the first steps that parents and teachers can take, in turning that around?

Kids get stuck in what neuroscientists call a “higher set point” — think of a car with a higher idling speed — and seek out experiences to keep their engine racing. They become so accustomed to this state that they find slower-paced activities aversive. They push their nervous system to its limits, crash, then push to the limits again. Parents need to slow things down with them. Find shared calming activities — like going for a walk, listening to music, baking — where the reward is being in this state together. The big thing is, they need to feel what it’s like to be calm, not be told to “calm down.”

The “Interbrain” is a key concept in your book. Can you talk a bit about what it is and why it matters so much?

The Interbrain is like a wireless brain-to-brain connection that operates, not just between a “higher-order brain” that possesses self-regulating skills and a developing brain just acquiring them, but throughout the lifespan. Our need for strong Interbrain connections is a biological imperative, and when that need wanes, this is a sign that the stress-load is too great. The old “genetic” way of thinking about the brain as an isolated organ governed by ancient mechanisms actually describes what human functioning is like when social engagement has broken down because of heightened stress.

Do parents or teachers ever snort disbelievingly at your insistence that there are no bad kids, or tell you, “look, these kids need to toughen up — if we fix for them every little sensory annoyance they’ll never function in the real world?” I think it can be hard for all of us, at first, to grasp the idea you write about, of an escalating cycle of over-arousal that may be set off by sensations that — to a hyper-sensitive child — aren’t small at all.

One of the most rewarding experiences has been to see teachers who did more than just snort go on to become Self-Reg champions. We place so much emphasis on how a child’s learning of “calm” has to be experiential, but the same point applies to Self-Reg: You have to feel and not just read about the changes that occur when you help a child self-regulate in order to get past your initial resistance. What you are describing in your question is that true empathy for children that is our species’ greatest strength.

It seems a profound realization for all of us as parents to hear what you say in Self-Reg: “All too often we confuse our needs with the child’s. We seek to make children more manageable, rather than self-managing.” Your program aims to change that, and has caught on not only in Canada but internationally. Why do you think this shift from managing kids to helping kids with self-reg is touching such a chord?

I think there are two reasons. The first is, because the stress that children are under today has become far too great, and for that reason, we are seeing so many problems in mood, behavior, and attention as well as a sharp rise in physical health problems. To understand why this is happening we have to recognize the many different kinds of stress that kids are under, hidden as well as overt, and learn how to distinguish between misbehavior and stress-behavior.

But the second part of the answer is that our own stress drops dramatically when we shift from trying to enforce compliance to reducing the causes of challenging behaviors and teaching kids how to do this for themselves.


http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/07/07/484910409/why-its-self-reg-not-self-control-that-matters-most-for-kids